How did gold slip away from Cavendish?

Cyclist Mark Cavendish had been earmarked to give Great Britain the perfect start to the London Olympics by winning gold in the men's road race on day one.

But the world's greatest sprinter, the pre-race favourite, was too far adrift to deliver his trademark burst, finishing down in 29th place, well adrift of winner Alexandre Vinokourov from Kazakhstan.

Here, BBC Sport examines what went wrong for the Manx Missile.

How did gold slip away?

Britain's aim had been to put Cavendish in a good position to take gold in a sprint finish. However, a breakaway group featuring a host of leading riders put them on the back foot. They tried but failed to bridge the gap to the leading group, with Vinokourov eventually sealing victory.

BBC Sport's Matt Slater:

"It almost seems harsh to look for things that went wrong for Team GB, such is the unpredictable nature of this volatile event.

"In many ways, that charge should be levelled at some of the other teams, too, namely Australia and Germany. They had finishers who would have liked their chances in a bunch sprint, too, but chose to let Mark Cavendish's 'Dream Team' do all the work at the front of the peloton.

"That is simply too much to ask of four men, even four men such as Chris Froome, David Millar, Ian Stannard and Bradley Wiggins. By the time the sprinters had realised this, it was too late... Vinokourov and co had scuppered any hopes of a full-blown dash for glory."

Alexandre Vinokourov:

"I realised the British team was not riding very fast anymore, that they were getting tired, and some people were trying to break away.

"There was a break of about 10 riders with a one-minute advantage, so we just pulled out and ended up being a group of about 40. I knew if I was following the group, I would have had no chance in the sprint."

Did Cavendish's Olympic gamble fail?

Cavendish's big target this year was Olympic gold. He agreed to sacrifice his hopes of defending the green jersey at the Tour de France to help Bradley Wiggins become the first Briton to win the race, yet still ended up winning three stages. But his main focus was always London 2012.

BBC expert and former Olympic champion Chris Boardman:

"It wasn't a gamble. This is what can happen in cycling. Cavendish has enjoyed some big highs, but in this sport there are big lows, too. That's life. Unfortunately, the chance to win an Olympic gold in your own country is a rare opportunity, probably a once-in-a-lifetime chance.

"Britain had a plan and it was a good plan. It had worked for them before and it will work again in the future. The problem was that everyone knew what it was - to get Cavendish to The Mall for a sprint finish."

British performance director Dave Brailsford:

"He had this 14-week plan that he'd worked on, his fitness and his climbing, and he was never in trouble. He did a brilliant job, so he deserves a lot of credit for that.

"If you want to win big, you've got to be prepared to lose big. On this occasion, it was a big loss, but if you're not willing to put yourself at risk in that sense then there's no point being in this kind of arena."

Has it been a wasted year?

Until Saturday's Olympic road race, it had been a year of triumph and personal fulfilment for the 27-year-old Cavendish.

A year ago, he won the prestigious green jersey at the Tour de France, quickly following up that success by becoming a world champion, winning road race gold in Copenhagen.

In December, his profile soared even higher when he was voted BBC Sports Personality of the Year. Then, in April, he became a father for the first time, his girlfriend Peta Todd giving birth to a daughter, Delilah Grace.

Back in the saddle, he won three stages of the Giro d'Italia, before claiming his first general classification win in the Ster ZLM Toer in mid-June.

Just last Sunday in Paris, his professional reputation went up another notch when he claimed his 23rd Tour de France stage victory, becoming the most successful sprinter in the race's long history.

So how was the Olympic experience?

Mark Cavendish: "The crowd was tremendous the whole way around, but the Aussies just raced negatively. We didn't expect any help. We rode the race we wanted to ride. Other teams were content that if they didn't win, we wouldn't win. We expected it."

British Cycling performance director Dave Brailsford: "We had a game-plan and we stuck to the game-plan. The guys gave it absolutely everything they had but on the day, this time round, it didn't work. If we could have our time again, we'd do exactly the same thing."

Britain's David Millar: "We lost out, but a lot of teams lost out by planning against us. We can't complain because everyone knew what we were going to try and do, so it was their job to derail us. Which they did."

Any other thoughts?

Bradley Wiggins (@bradwigginsexternal-link): "Well, we did everything we could as a team, gutted for Cav."

David Millar (@millarmindexternal-link): "Cav had the legs to go with the attacks on the last climb but trusted our ability to bring it home. Gutted."

More Millar: "On the bright side, it was the most amazing feeling in the world carrying the weight of a nation. Feel terrible we didn't deliver."

Catherine Wiggins, wife of Bradley (@Cathwiggins1981external-link): "Heads high GREAT Britain and on your feet for Mark Cavendish."

BBC entertainment reporter Colin Paterson (@ColinGPatersonexternal-link): "Just spoke to Cavendish's Dad. He says his son's Olympic dream over for good as course will be too hilly in 4 years."


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